I’ll spare you all the whys and wherefores, but suffice it to say that things have been stressful in my department at work lately. I’ve been pondering what I can do to make things better, but mine is a position of responsibility without any actual authority or power. I have no control over salaries, budgets, workloads, departmental goals and objectives, whether office pets are allowed, or anything that could make a meaningful difference in our day-to-day work life. My supervisory duties generally only extend as far as timesheet signing and go-betweening.
I started to feel like maybe what we need is a good, old-fashioned, inspirational speech. You know the sort I mean: an eloquent, inspirational, Braveheart-esque call to arms that would empower us all and make us feel impervious to the forces of chaos that threaten to frazzle us and push us over the edge of sanity. Maybe we need somebody to get all Chumba Wumba on us—to remind us that, yes, we may get knocked down, but by golly, we get back up again.
I realized I’m uniquely qualified to deliver such a message, as I have extensive experience with that whole getting knocked down thing. Over the years, I’ve lost people I loved dearly and body parts I didn’t love until right before they got chopped off me.
I’ve been shot at, shoved, shaken, stalked, stolen from, snakebitten, sunburnt, and snickered at. Every single day, I wake up with the bitter, terrible knowledge that I won’t be able to eat a croissant on that particular day, or on any of the days that follow, for the rest of my life.
But I get up anyway.
I decided that if anyone should be able to deliver a few words to get the troops fired up, to sprinkle some Bridge to Terabithia magic out there and reassure my colleagues that nothing crushes us, it’s me. I’d do it at our next weekly department meeting.
I could feel myself getting inspired. This was going to be powerful. A real turning point. My three coworkers would look back on this speech as the moment they went from burned out to burning brightly with a passion for data analysis. I envisioned myself holding a boombox up over my head with Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine”* playing, reminding them that we are, each and every one of us, unflappable, unstoppable machines capable of feeding reports, spreadsheets, charts, tables, graphs, and dashboards into the insatiable, gaping maw that ceaselessly appears at our door, hungry to be fed more and more data.
I briefly considered jotting down some preparatory notes. But then I thought back to countless TV shows where someone has a speech to deliver, and they carefully craft what they’re going to say, but then when they get to the podium, they look over the crowd, hesitate, throw out their notecards, and speak directly from the heart. The off-the-cuff version is always better than the pre-rehearsed speech, and it invariably ends with a standing ovation, tears, and/or a charge into enemy lines with bayonets drawn.
So it would be for me.
Monday morning came with a flurry of plan-shattering crises that ate into our normal meeting time. I stayed calm and moved the meeting to Tuesday. This would just give me more time to mentally prepare and to be awesome.
As we gathered for our meeting on Tuesday morning, I took a deep breath and looked around the table, ready to wing it and whip out a great speech, just like they do on TV. But then my confidence collapsed, my nerve vaporized, and my mind went blank.
I don’t even remember exactly what I said. I think I mumbled something about how things could be worse, about how at least our jobs don’t involve trying to sell things to people, about how, amongst the usual group of therapy dogs available for petting in the Campus Center every Wednesday, there’s a new dog, and he’s a mighty Great Dane, and I’m sure that visiting with him will be key in solving all of our problems.
There were no cheers, no tears, no fixing of bayonets. Probably the best thing that happened was we decided to show school spirit by once again participating in the staff Halloween costume contest, since that went so well last time. Last year we dressed as telecommuters, but we decided to go a different route this year and to disguise ourselves as workers who don’t succeed at getting out of bed on Monday morning. Like last year, pajamas will play a pivotal role.
Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone left the meeting feeling any better than they did when they walked in. I will never again take those obligatory inspirational speech scenes for granted. They’re not as easy as they look.
Let this be a cautionary tale about the importance of being prepared, of writing your ideas down, and of not taking important life lessons from TV sitcoms.
*This song is what got me through the floods, fires, and Banner conversion of 2010.